In Iceland, Shorter Workweek an 'Overwhelming Success'

Workers who put in 35-36 hours instead of 40 were happier, more productive, per 4-year experiment
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2021 7:33 AM CDT
In Iceland, Shorter Workweek an 'Overwhelming Success'
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Kerkez)

Iceland always seems to fall near the top of most "happiest nations" lists, and this experimentation with a shorter workweek may have just cemented its spot. For four years, between 2015 and 2019, more than 1% of the nation's workforce (2,500 workers or so) from all types of venues—including hospitals, preschools, and traditional cubicle-filled offices, per the CBC—clocked in for just 35 or 36 hours a week instead of the typical 40, without seeing their paychecks slashed. This revamped workweek was part of a "journey to a shorter working week," a set of two large-scale trials conducted by the Autonomy think tank and the Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda), whose goal is to better people's quality of life. The results? The experiment was an "overwhelming success," says Autonomy research chief Will Stronge, per the BBC.

Not only did the shorter workweek leave workers happier, with less stress and feelings of burnout, as well as a better work-life balance—they also saw their productivity remain level, or even get better, in most of the workplaces involved in the trials. The experiment has already had a significant real-world effect: Once unions got wind of the news, negotiations began, and now nearly 90% of the nation's workers have either transitioned to a shorter workday without losing pay or are gearing up to do so. Similar trials are being conducted in New Zealand and Spain. This experiment "tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible, too," an Alda researcher notes, per CBS News. Stronge adds the "public sector is ripe" for this kind of innovation, and that other countries should take note of Iceland's success, per the BBC. (More Iceland stories.)

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